Why all the fuss about Omega 3?
The National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that only 4% of children are getting the suggested amount of oily fish in their diet. Oily fish provides an omega 3 fat called DHA – which has been shown to support healthy brain function.
WHAT IS OMEGA 3?
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid found mainly in oily fish such as trout, salmon, sardines and mackerel. It is called an essential fatty acid because our body cannot produce it, so needs us to consume it in our diet or from supplements. The reason it is so important to us? Omega 3 provides DHA which helps to support the health of our heart, eyes and brain.
Experts have found that ensuring a daily intake of at least 250mg of DHA every day will help to maintain brain function, normal vision and normal function of the heart.
DOES IT ONLY COME FROM FISH?
Omega 3 can be found in other foods, including flaxseeds, chai seeds and walnuts. It is also widely found added to other foods such as fish fingers, eggs, milk and even orange juice. These foods with ‘added omega 3’ have generally had plant sourced omega 3 added to them, largely because it tastes better – who wants to drink fishy orange juice?!
However, only fish sourced omega 3 provides DHA. If we consume mainly plant sources of omega 3, our body must do the hard work of converting it into DHA, and it is thought that this is not particularly efficient. In fact, one study carried out in Australia found that simply eating omega 3 enriched foods did not lead to those optimal levels of DHA which are associated with healthy brain and heart function.
HOW HELPFUL IS IT?
Omega 3 is not a medicine or a cure all. We are not claiming here that it will boost everyone’s brain power. However, there is a lot of evidence that DHA or fish oil could be an important supplement for every parent to consider for their child, to support brain health. In fact, in Japan, fish oil supplements are provided by the government for all young children!
DHA FROM THE DIET
Obviously, the best way of getting any nutrient is to include it in the diet. However, as pure DHA is only really found in oily fish, this does require our young ones to eat 2-3 portions of oily fish every week. National statistics looking at how we all eat show that many children are not eating oily fish at all – let alone 2-3 times a week! This is where fish oil supplements could be helpful.
CHOOSING A SUPPLEMENT
If our children are unable or (as is more likely) unwilling to eat the requisite amount of oily fish, then supplements could be a useful way of ensuring they get that 250mg DHA each day.
When looking for a fish oil supplement for children, ensure it provides a good level of DHA per dose, and that it is easy to use: For example, capsules or even chewables could present a chocking hazard for younger children. Smaller capsules and chewables also very often fail to provide that all important 250mg of DHA. A liquid product could well be the best way to go, and the good news is that these products are nothing like the cod liver oil liquids of the past. A good fish oil product will be processed from fresh fish, and flavoured. Which means that, as long we keep it cool, there should be no fishy taste to it at all.
Written by Jenny Logan DNMed (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has been working with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years).